In simple terms, a state has the following elements: population, territory, government and law.
We started this series of posts by defining territorial disputes. In relation to this point, Merrills tells us that a “dispute may be defined as a specific disagreement concerning a matter of fact, law or policy in which the claim or assertion of one party is met with refusal, counter-claim or denial by another.”
Merrills, J.G. 2017. International Dispute Settlement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
This series of posts is centers on one particular kind of international disagreement: territorial disputes. We have already seen that territorial disputes have to do with two key concepts: STATE and SOVEREIGNTY. Additionally, we preliminary defined State as a group of people (population) that live in a certain territory and have in common a government and a system of norms (law).
Although population, territory, government and law are the essential components in order to have a state, there are other elements (or sub-elements): currency, market, defense, language, religion, etc.
For clarity in the exposition, the following paragraphs introduce one element at a time (population, territory, government and law) and in each case, some of their sub-elements:
a) population: the people that are the nation, the subjective element of the state. If we wanted to reduce the issue to its normative existence, we could say that the population of a state is determined by its law (for example, national citizen and foreigners). Is it necessary for a nation to have people from the same ethnic origin, professing the same religion or speaking the same language? Some of these questions find their answer below.
The fact that a group of people have only one language is not a necessary requisite for them to be a nation (hence, a state).
There are several cases in which although the state has one official language, its inhabitants speak others (Argentina’s official language is Spanish but the Welsh community in the Patagonia learns both, Spanish and Welsh at school). Moreover, there are several states around the world with more than one official language (South Africa, Montenegro, Israel, India, Peru, United Kingdom, to name a few).
An ethnic group can be defined as that in which its members identify themselves with each other through a common background or heritage (real or assumed) that may consist in the language, culture, religion, race, etc. As we are considering religion and language separately, we shall focus on culture and race when dealing with ethnicity here.
Is to be black or white a requisite to be part of a community? Is it an African or Asian background necessary? Once again, there are several examples that have a direct answer to the question. In nowadays world, most (if not all) states have populations with individuals from various races and many different cultural backgrounds. Our vocabulary has even a word for such a phenomenon: cosmopolitan. It appears that a common ethnicity is not fundamental so to constitute a nation.
There are states with official religions such as Argentina, Monaco, Vatican City (Roman Catholic), Iceland, Denmark (Lutheran), United Kingdom (Anglican), etc. Nevertheless, there are several that are considered secular states; in other words, without any official State religion: Bolivia, France, United States, etc. Moreover, those states that do have an official religion usually recognize in their Constitutions freedom of religion so although they do have an official one, their inhabitants are able to profess the religion of their choice.
As we have seen, the individuals that integrate the population of a certain state may have (and in most cases, they do have) diverse beliefs, ethnic background, languages, etc. but they still can perfectly be considered as an integrated group of people able to be a nation and therefore, constitute a state.
NOTE: This post is based on Jorge Emilio Núñez, “Territorial Disputes and State Sovereignty: International Law and Politics,” London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2020 (forthcoming)
Previous published research monograph about territorial disputes and sovereignty by the author, Jorge Emilio Núñez, “Sovereignty Conflicts and International Law and Politics: A Distributive Justice Issue,” London and New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2017.
NEXT POST: State and its elements, territory
Wednesday 18th September 2019
Dr Jorge Emilio Núñez